Tosh Lupoi - Impact Report, Part One

Tosh Lupoi (UW Media Relations)

Like crying fire in a theater, Cal fans had heard the cries so many times before, so they turned a deaf ear. They'd heard the rumors about their defensive line coach - Tosh Lupoi - basically ever since he took over as California's defensive line coach in 2008, the youngest full-time position coach in the history of their program.

He was charismatic, charming, personable - all in a package that looked straight out of Armed Forces recruiting magazine. You had it all - the tough exterior, the square jaw, the short haircut.

"We heard rumors that it was going on, but there are often rumors of that sort - particularly with a young, talented guy like Lupoi," said Chris Avery, Publisher of Bearinsider.com, Cal's biggest independent website. "It happens, but I haven't seen anyone on our boards say until today that it was a done deal or that it's happening, or whatever. It wasn't that recognized here, so it came out of the blue. The local feedback has consistently been that he's a Cal guy, so there's no chance of losing him."

With the news that Lupoi had joined the UW staff Monday as their defensive line coach and defensive run coordinator, the response has been nothing short of seismic - on both sides of the ball.

"To me, this is the biggest recruiting story of the year," said Greg Biggins, Assistant Recruiting Editor and West Regional Coordinator at ESPN. "Before, the biggest story was Arik Armstead de-committing from SC, because that was a kid that was always going there. But this is the biggest story of the year because of the way it impacts two programs. He had become, in the last couple years, probably the top recruiter on the west coast, and easily among the top-five in the country."

Rumors had been bubbling to the surface ever since Nick Holt, Mike Cox, and Jeff Mills were let go after the calamitous defensive performance at the Alamo Bowl, and those rumors persisted even more once Washington hired former California linebackers coach Justin Wilcox as their new Defensive Coordinator.

But Lupoi is a very loyal man, loyal to Cal nearly to a fault. It was his backstory that helped turn him into one of the top recruiters in the country.

"One of the things that made Tosh so appealing is that he sold from the standpoint of - my Dad coached here, I grew up a Cal fan, I played here six years, I was a grad assistant here two years and I moved straight into coaching and the head coach gave me a chance to go in to be a position coach straight from a grad assistant - which is almost unheard of," said Bearinsider Staff Writer Jim McGill, who covers a ton of their recruiting coverage. "So a lot of his appeal from a Cal standpoint stemmed from his own personal experience.

"But there's no doubt that he can relate to kids on a level that virtually no other coach can - partially because of his age and partially because of his personality. If U-Dub holds on to him and this move comes to fruition, it could be a huge move. I don't think he'll be as effective anywhere else as he would be at Cal, but his personality alone will be an upgrade in recruiting over virtually anybody that any staff could hire, in my opinion."

California fans weren't the only ones turing a blind eye while the theater started to burn; recruiting analysts didn't think Lupoi would make what - at least on the outside - would be considered a lateral move to a division foe.

"I don't think I dismissed it because I knew there was talk last year that if Justin Wilcox took the Texas Defensive Coordinator job that Lupoi was potentially going with him," said Brandon Huffman, National Football Recruiting Analyst & West Regional Recruiting Manager for FOX Sports and Scout.com. "I always knew that there was a possibility that him and Wilcox could hook up, but the one thing I thought would hold him back is he wouldn't leave inner-conference."

"Yeah, it's surprising," added Biggins. "As of two nights ago, it appeared as if he was going to stay. As of last night I talked to a couple recruits that said they talked to Tosh and he said he was 50/50 on it. So it's surprising because that's his alma mater. One of the things that made him such a great recruiter is because he recruited with so much passion for that school. He loves Cal so much. I know Washington has an unlimited checkbook, which no one else has, other than probably SC. But I just thought that no matter what U-Dub offered, Cal would come close enough to keep him. I assumed they valued him that much."

It's an assumption shared by many at Cal shocked by not just the news of Lupoi's move - but also the curious timing. Did Golden Bears Head Coach Jeff Tedford fight to keep Lupoi? Was it strictly a matter of money? And with two weeks to signing day, why on earth would you let your top recruiter up and leave for a team in your own conference, let alone your own division? By more than one person I talked to, they used the term 'power play', and that's exactly what it feels like on the outside. This was Steve Sarkisian flexing his muscles, Washington flexing their checkbook, and announcing to the Pac-12 that they intend on staying competitive for the immediate future. To do that and take the legs out from under a divisional adversary was just the cherry on top.

"Why would the coaches allow this to happen at this point in the recruiting season?" Avery asked. "Why would Tedford allow it? It defies logic, it defies loyalty, and it defies good sense. It's an unknown, and there's a really important question in there somewhere. It's pretty darn strange, and it would be a national story, I guess, because it is so strange."

"If he makes the move as it seems he will, it's a brain-dead move (for Cal)," added McGill. "There's a lot of TV money unfortunately that a lot of schools are going to start throwing around like funny money, and they are going to find themselves in a worse position than they were before the TV money. But it's a good investment on U-Dub's part, in my opinion regardless. The thing you have to deal with later is the repercussions with the other position coaches. It ends up being an economy of scale where you eventually have to, in order to retain or bring in new, strong assistants, you have to pay everyone across the board big money.

"Even though a lot of fans and writers would throw out Lupoi moving speculation without having any clue what was going on, I always looked at those other situations as danger points. Texas last year, and Tennessee - they came after him hard and he turned them down out of straight loyalty. The only thing I can think of is if Cal wasn't willing to give him more responsibility and wouldn't budge at all on the income. And if that's the case that's really, really short-sighted, and there's going to be hell to pay with a lot of people - a lot of fans, a lot of donors, a lot of people from a wide spectrum."

Closer to UW, the reaction has been nothing short of universal approval and high praise for Lupoi. "I have a great relationship with Tosh, he's been outstanding in recruiting our players for as long as he's been with Cal," said Lakes Head Coach Dave Miller. One of Miller's seniors - Cedric Dozier - is set to sign with California February 1st. "This is going to be a big-time hire for Sark, no question. I think it's going to have a huge impact. I think Tosh is one of the top recruiters that I've dealt with in my years at Lakes. He's an aggressive recruiter that does a tremendous job, and I think it's going to be huge. To get a guy that has that kind of reputation and that kind of connection with players is going to be monstrous, no question about it."

Now that the dust is starting to settle just a bit, the recruiting guys are still scrambling to assess just how big this move is going to be not just for Washington and California, but for the North Division of the Pac-12 and the west coast. There's no question the hiring of Tosh Lupoi away from California and to Washington is a game-changer on many fronts.

"There's no denying that he was an absolutely huge force in recruiting, and I'd be surprised if there was anybody better in the country, and I'm talking (Ed) Orgeron, anybody," McGill said. "His personal relationships that he formed were enough to get some guys on its own to commit. As far as Cal goes, it would definitely had an impact if things stayed as they are on the defensive line. It would have big implications."

"You're taking basically Cal's best weapon away from them," added Huffman. "So you're crippling a divisional opponent, while at the same time strengthening your own staff. The jury is still out on if he's a phenomenal position coach - although he put two guys in the first round the last couple years - but there's no question he's the best recruiter in the Pac-12 not named Ed Orgeron. He was the Pac-12 recruiter of the year last year. So you get arguably a top-five recruiters in the country and you took him from one of your divisional rivals."

"I don't know what U-Dub offered, and I don't know what Cal counter-offered, or if they did counter-offer," said Biggins. "But I thought Cal would always do enough to keep him. I thought U-Dub would have to give an Albert Pujols-type of contract, meaning they would have had to overpay by so much, that was the only way they could get him. And they must have done that."

When you add the previous moves of Wilcox, Peter Sirmon, and Keith Heyward - not to mention current DL coach, special teams coordinator and recruiting coordinator Johnny Nansen, it didn't take long for at least one respected analyst to heap on the heavy praise.

"That's probably the best staff in the Pac-12," said Biggins. "A great staff of coaches…people forget that Tosh is a good coach. He had back-to-back years where he had guys drafted in the first round. He's a heckuva coach; he's not just a guy that's going to go out and recruit. Heyward is a good coach and good recruiter; Wilcox…he'll be a head coach in three years.

"It's a great staff that can all recruit and grind, and obviously Sark is a grinder. They put together a monster staff that really has a chance to do some big things."

Part Two will talk about the direct impact Lupoi is expected to have for the 2012 class and beyond.

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